Like a literal sex magnet, the group gets larger and larger as we walk over to the Darkroom. All told, we wind up with fourteen people: myself, Santiago, Enrique, Claire, Sam, Pen, Sorrento, Chain, Sinclair, Charlotte, Lawrence, Chantelle, Morgan, and Rain.

When we get there, Enrique empties his pockets and shouts, “Enjoy!” as condoms go flying everywhere. There is a chorus of laughter, and people begin taking over benches and corners. There is a rustling of clothing and the wet sounds of people kissing and licking and sucking each other. At one point, someone calls out, “Who wants to be spit roasted?” and I laugh as Santiago eagerly volunteers. I am gazing at my fiance, enjoying watching her when I hear Lawrence say to Rain, “Don’t ever call me Larry while my fist is in your ass!” Morgan and Chain co-top Claire and Chantelle for a while, and Rain receives one of his infamous “poetry blowjobs,” reciting poetry in between grunts and thrusts. Everyone is enjoying themselves, but it’s not just the sex. There is a camaraderie that permeates the room. A few years ago, this would have felt like a bunch of strangers fucking. It still would have been hot, but this is different. This is a room full of friends and lovers, people who care a great deal about each other, who are not there just to get off. It feels like a community.

Suddenly, a fist grasps my hair and hauls me up from the leather bench I was sitting on. I gasp, a tingle traveling through my body that starts at the hand on my scalp and settles in my loins. Santiago drags me to the center of the room and pushes me down to my knees. “Time to show everyone that you belong to me.” She says something else, but it doesn’t register. It doesn’t matter. I know what she wants.

I grasp her hips and lean forward, purposely letting my hot breath fall against her pussy before I even touch her with my mouth. I kiss her outer lips softly, then open my mouth and lick at them gently. I hear her suck in her breath, and I grin. I love having that effect on her. Parting her lips with my tongue, I begin lapping at her clit. She moans above me and clutches my hair, pushing my face harder between her legs. I tense up the tip of my tongue and swipe it up and down, just the way I know she likes it. After a few moments, I can tell she’s getting close. I slide a finger inside, then another, and fuck her with my hand while she humps my mouth. She convulses around my hand, smothering my face as she cums. I wait until I’m sure she’s finished before removing my fingers.

As soon as she catches her breath, she pulls me up and kisses me passionately. “My turn.” She drops to her knees to return the favor.

“Oh, god,” I cry out as her tongue quickly finds my clit. Hearing her cum has me so turned on already that I’m cumming in less than a minute. “Oh– oh, god– yes, yes– Maria!” I gasp out. “Maria, oh, fuck, yes, please, ahh, god!”  My nails dig into her shoulders as my body shudders. “Maria, Maria, oh, fuck, Ma–Ma–MARIAAAAAA!

I’m leaning against her, still catching my breath, when I dimly hear a voice somewhere in the room ask, “Who the fuck is Maria?”

It’s Not A Party Until…

I am hanging out on the back porch when Enrique, Claire, Pen, Sorrento, Nate, and Sinclair. “Heyyy, Katherine… you busy?” Enrique asks.

I study the group. Claire is watching the exchange and giggling. “Umm… not really. I was just dancing. Why, what’s up?”

“Well, a few of us,” Enrique gestures toward his entourage, “were thinking about going over to the Darkroom.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Okay… so?”

“So, I was wondering if you’d like to come along.” He tilts his pocket toward me, and I see that it’s stuffed full of condoms.

I laugh and I glance over my shoulder at Santiago. “I might be convinced. Is this party invite-only?” Santiago catches my eye and comes over.

“What’s happening over here?” she asks, wrapping an arm around my waist.

“Enrique’s just invited us to a little gathering over in the Darkroom,” I answer, nodding my chin towards the pocket that he is still displaying.

“Oh, fuck yes!” Santiago exclaims.

Max’s Mistake

I am sitting on chair on the back steps with a white paper bag and a marker, writing a letter to Kimberly on my luminary when sudden shouting jars me from my thoughts.

“HOW FUCKING DARE YOU!” I look up to see what the commotion is. Santiago has climbed on top of one of the picnic tables, and her fists are flying.

Without thinking, I scramble over and physically pull her off of whoever she’s pummeling. “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Several others have also run over to pull the two apart. As Sorrento, Enrique and I pull Santiago down from the table, Joani and some other Saratogans have appeared to help Max.

“You stay the fuck away from me! How dare you! You’re the reason she’s dead!” Santiago is yelling. I place myself physically in front of her to keep her from jumping on top of him again. “He asked me where Kimberly was,” she says loudly to the rest of us, still glaring at him. “It’s his fault she isn’t here! He’s the one who claimed he used a condom and then didn’t!” She’s shouting again.

Max is escorted away by his friends to another table as Sorrento and I lead Santiago a few feet away onto the wet grass. “What the hell was that?” I ask.

“I told you,” she says angrily. “He asked where Kimberly is. It’s his fucking fault she’s not here. Everyone knows how he told her he was wearing a condom and then didn’t. And she’s dead, and he has the fucking gall to ask where she is?”

I sigh. “Okay. I understand.” I stand there quietly for a few moments as her anger subsides and the chatter around us resumes. I quietly sneak away back towards the bonfire as Santiago and Sorrento are engrossed in conversation, my eyes scanning the partygoers. My eyes finally rest on Max, who is sitting across on the other side of the fire.

“Hey, Max?” I say casually as I stroll over. “Can I talk to you for a sec?”

He blinks up at me, looking surprised. “Yeah, sure.”

I raise an eyebrow when he doesn’t move. “Alone?”

“Oh! Umm, sure.” He stands up from the table.

I look around for a quiet place to chat, and settle on walking a few feet into the dark by the trees, just out of earshot. I turn to face him. He looks at me expectantly. I take a step closer to him and poke my right index finger into his chest as I speak. “Look. I don’t know what the fuck you were thinking, but you’re lucky that all she did was punch you,” I spit. “You have some fucking nerve, asking her about Kimberly like that.”

He pales. “I’m sorry,” he says, shrinking away from me.

“I don’t care if you’re sorry. You stay the hell away from her. Because next time, I won’t stop her.” My anger is cold and controlled, surprising even myself.

“I–I’m s-s-sorry,” he stutters again. He cowers a little.

“Sorry doesn’t bring Kimberly back from the dead,” I hiss. He recoils as if I’ve slapped him. I am still poking at his chest for emphasis. “It’s your fault she died.” Max is quiet, cowering wide-eyed in front of me.

“Stay the fuck away from me, and my family.” I glare at him again for another second before I turn on my heel and stalk away without a backwards glance, leaving him in the shadows.

I head back to Santiago, who is still chatting with Sorrento over on the grass where I’d left her. “Max won’t be a problem anymore,” I tell her.

“What? What do you mean?” she asks.

“I took care of him. He won’t be bothering us again.” I shrug at the suspicious look she gives me. “I just told him to stay away from you, is all. I’m gonna go finish my luminary.” I go back to my abandoned paper bag and pick up my marker to finish the letter I am writing to Kimberly.

No Escape From Death

I honestly don’t remember a lot about the morning after of 1983. It’s pretty hazy. I remember the ominous music, and I remember the Agents of Death demanding thirteen names instead of ten this time. I remember giving them three tickets again, especially since I’d been unprotected not only with women, but with men. I remember holding my breath as I listened to Pepper calling out people’s names. More than half of them were people that I knew and had recently interacted with in some way: Evelyn, Pen, Enrique, Mr T, Steven, Ruben, Abner, Trevor, Nick, Walter, Claire, Max… and Kimberly.

I remember my shock when I hear Kimberly’s name called, and my denial. There’s no way she’s going to die, I thought. She’s part of my group, one of my girls. I’m going to go down to the funeral field and she’s going to be fine. I think I really believed that, too… right up until I saw her laying in her coffin.

I remember waiting as the music continued playing, the only sounds in the room sobs and people shuffling about as they hugged and consoled each other. I remember the feeling of suspense as I wait for the Agents to come back and escort us down to the field where we would learn who passed. I remember the feeling of dread as I pause to peek into each coffin. The first one I stop at is Abner’s. I barely knew him, but he was a friend of Santiago’s, and I’d recently chatted with him about the possibility of including one of his poems in the Times alongside Sinclair’s interview.

I fling a flower onto his chest angrily. “Fuck you, Abner. And I’m still going to print your–” my voice cracks, “–stupid poem.”

I know before I even get there. Kimberly is nowhere to be found… she’s in one of these other caskets. I find her just behind Abner’s and look down for a moment, sobbing. I place a flower gently on her unmoving chest. “You fucking moron!” I gasp out between sobs. “I told you to be careful!” I am crying so hard that I can barely get the words out. But… it doesn’t matter.

The Agents call us back to begin the funeral. The Angel of Death stands before us once again. “We are gathered here today to mourn the loss of Trevor.” It’s the same as last year: people hugging and sobbing. “We are gathered here today to mourn the loss of Abner.” Grief, fear, determination, anger, sadness… all are present. “And we are gathered here today to mourn the loss of Kimberly.” As tears stream down my face, all of my emotions war for dominance.

I wonder which one is going to win.

Friend For Life

I am busily scribbling at my desk when I hear a sharp rap on the door. I walk over and open it to reveal Enrique and his medical bag. “Enrique, hi!” I say, smiling warmly and gesturing him inside.

“Hey,” he says, dropping his bag on the coffee table. “How are you feeling?”

Much better, thanks to you. Can I get you anything before we begin?”

“No, thanks,” he says, opening his bag and putting on his stethoscope. He proceeds to listen to my lungs and heart, going through all the usual check-ins that he’s been performing every few days for the past few weeks. I cough lightly.

He eyes the half-full wine glass sitting on my table next to my legal pad. “Have you been staying away from alcohol?”

“Oh, you know… mostly.” I flash him a winning smile.

He regards me sternly. “Uh huh. You know that alcohol slows down your natural healing process. If you want to get better, you need to refrain.”

“Yeah yeah, I understand. Listen, I want to thank you. Seriously. If it weren’t for you, I could have died. Is there anything I can do for you?” I ask.

He shrugs, looking uncomfortable. “Nah, I’m good.”

“Oh, come on. There must be something,” I press.

“Not really. I’m just making my way through med school; I have everything I need.” he says.

“Right,” I say thoughtfully. “Remind me, which school are you attending?”

“NYU,” he says.

“My alma mater!” I exclaim with a smile. “Well, call me if you think of anything. Seriously – I owe you.”

“I will. And stay away from alcohol!”

I walk him out and close the door behind him, musing. I make a split second decision and grab the phone. “Hello, could you transfer me to the Bursar’s office? I’d like to pay my tuition in full. My name?… Enrique Fernandez.”

Awkward Savior

A loud knock sounds at the door, startling everyone. Charlotte opens it, and Enrique strolls in. He and Santiago lock eyes for a brief moment.  “Thanks for coming–” she begins, but Enrique cuts her off.

“It’s not for you. It’s for her.” He strides over to my bed.

“Well, thank you anyway,” Santiago finishes, sounding sad.

“What’s that about?” Sinclair asks Santiago softly, but she only shrugs in response.

Enrique feels my forehead, listens to my lungs and heart, and pokes and prods me for a few minutes before standing up. “She’s going to be fine. It’s pneumonia.” He takes out a few bottles of pills and cough syrup from his medical bag as the others let out audible sighs of relief.

There are several cries of thanks as he gathers his things to leave. He fixes Santiago with another piercing stare. “I told you… it’s not for you.” He then turns and walks out without another word, leaving the rest of us in awkward silence.

What If It’s…

This is slightly out of order in terms of when it happened for the players, but makes sense to be discussed here in terms of Katherine’s timeline: I wanted a Black Box scene to show how Katherine’s friends and family would react to her near-death experience.

I lay in bed, coughing uncontrollably. Santiago, Charlotte, my little brother Artie, and Sinclair are gathered in my bedroom. Artie is holding a cool washcloth to my fevered brow.

“So cold,” I mumble. “Why is it so cold in here?”

Artie calls to the others, “Can we get some extra blankets?” Santiago gently lays another comforter over me.

After a moment, I throw them off. “Too hot.” A moment later, I start shivering again.

Artie covers me with the blankets again and takes a step away from the bed. “She’s burning up,” he murmurs. “Cold sweats. We have to do something.”

I can hear Sinclair on the phone, giving a list of my symptoms. He sounds tense. “That’s right. Swollen lymph nodes, fever, cold sweats, and she can’t keep anything down. … No, no rash or lesions. ” His voice quickly gets louder and turns angry. “What do you mean, you can’t see her? Don’t you know who I am?!” he yells into the phone. This is the third or fourth hospital he’s called.

Charlotte yanks the receiver from his hand. “You can’t do this! You have to treat her! This is discrimination!” She launches into a tirade of legalese and then stops abruptly. “They hung up,” she says quietly. I hear a chorus of sighs.

Artie mops my brow again. His image becomes fuzzy. All of a sudden, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am dying. “Daddy?” I whisper weakly. He hovers over me, looking concerned. I reach out to clutch his hand and see a female figure just to his left. “Mommy?” My mother backs away from the bed as I reach for her. I look at my father, confused, and his face morphs back into Artie’s. I glance up and see Charlotte staring at me, horrified. I convulse as another coughing fit takes wracks my body.

“Isn’t there anyone else we can call?” Charlotte says desperately. Santiago sighs heavily, and the others turn to look at her.

“What?” Sinclair asks her.

“…Enrique” she answers. “He’s a med student. He might be able to help.” Sinclair hands her the phone without another word. She takes the phone and dials a number.